By Bill Boisvert

I’d planned to spend Saturday at Taste of Chicago, but when I leave the subway someone thrusts a leaflet into my hands warning that the Ku Klux Klan will appear in force at Daley Plaza that afternoon.

By three o’clock the plaza has come to life with a crowd of perhaps 50 anti-Klan demonstrators with placards, slogans, and a megaphone, all organized by the Trotskyist Spartacist League. But the Klan is nowhere to be seen. Apparently their parade permit lasts from three until nine.

More anti-Klan groups filter in, and soon the various leftist factions are haranguing one another. One vocal contingent from the Black Panther Nation argues with anyone who’ll listen about ice people and sun people and 6,000 years of black people being oppressed by whites, a tradition in which Jews and the CIA loom large. The Spartacists argue back about a worldwide proletarian insurrection that embraces all kinds of workers–black, white, Jewish, immigrant, feminist, queer.

All workers except cops, who are part of the apparatus of repression. As the cops set up barricades to cordon off the area where the Klansmen are to rally, a Spart with a megaphone starts chanting, “Cops and Klan go hand in hand!” Someone else remarks that at a stop-the-Klan rally in Los Angeles “the cops were waiting for us with snipers.”

At around 5 PM the crowd is electrified by the news that the Klan has finally arrived. Fifteen or so Klansmen and Klanswomen pile out of vans at a corner of the plaza and advance in a line toward the Picasso sculpture. Suddenly the Sparts–black and white, young and old, men and women–simply attack the Klan members, shoving them to the ground and whacking them over the head with placards.

The police wade in. A few minutes of bare knuckles and billy clubs and the brawl is over. Some cops shepherd the Klansmen to their stage behind the Picasso sculpture. Others haul a few of their attackers off to paddy wagons. The remaining Sparts chant, “Free them! Free them!”

For the next hour the Klansmen–wearing neat uniforms of black slacks, white shirts, and nondescript shoulder insignia–stand silently at attention with their vaguely Nazi-style flags, while their PA system blares a medley of bagpipe music and marching songs. Their only placard is a large sign referring onlookers to a post-office box in Arizona.

Soon many of the Sparts seem bored and start railing at the cops, telling the minority members among them to come over to the Spart side. The cops smile and shake their heads.

Finally a Klan spokesman named Tom steps up to the microphone. By now the anti-Klan crowd has tripled in size, drawing in purple-haired punks, gay activists, and a rival Trotskyist faction, which the Sparts denounce for missing the earlier melee.

Despite the Klan’s powerful sound system, the counterdemonstrators nearly drown out Tom’s speech. He calls the Klan the “oldest and largest human-rights organization in the world” and says it’s restyled itself as an ethnic-pride organization. After a few imprecations against the “homosexual trash” in the audience he says, “We’re not here to promote hatred against blacks or Mexicans or Asians. But what’s wrong with loving your own people?”

He delivers an homage to “white police officers” that omits the many black and Latino cops lined up to protect his First Amendment rights. He appeals to “the white people in the crowd,” even though they’re all hurling obscenities at him. Then he launches into a diatribe against the NAFTA and GATT treaties for throwing American workers out of their jobs–using terms almost identical to ones the Sparts have been using all afternoon.

Eventually he steps down from the microphone, and another hour of bagpipe and marching music begins. Then the Klansmen pack up and file back to their vans between two lines of cops. The Sparts jeer, but no one attacks.

The crowd starts to disperse peacefully, though about a hundred people, mostly Sparts, remain clustered around piles of placards. Some Sparts are shouting out that everyone should leave without provoking the police when suddenly, with astonishing speed, the cops form a solid phalanx and march straight at them. The Sparts begin shouting for everyone to get out of the way, but the cops plow into them, knocking several people down.

Then the cops simply stop. They stand there, arms folded, while the rest of the demonstrators stream out of the plaza.

“Aw, it’s not so bad,” says one cop to another. “Just more overtime for us.”